Chapter Six: The Sorcerer's Apprentice
"Twice deosil, then once widdershins, Potter, not the other way around," Snape commanded.
Harry jumped, nearly dropping the heavy stirring paddle. He hadn't realised, when Snape asked him to stir the Blood-Replenishing Potion, how easy it would prove to become distracted by the swirling mixture. He'd been eager to help, feeling very like a sorcerer's apprentice as he followed Snape into the basement, where countless shelves of glass jars glittered in the firelight and a huge cauldron, big enough for Harry to curl up and sleep in, stood on a raised section of flooring in the centre of the room.
But so interesting were these surroundings, and so mesmerising was it to watch as the potion cycled through all possible (and some impossible) shades of purple and red, that Harry had trouble remembering the pattern he was supposed to be utilising while stirring the bubbling liquid. Sometimes he would catch himself going three or four times clockwise — deosil, Snape called it — and twice counterclockwise, or the other way around, or perhaps some new variation entirely.
"Focus, Potter! That is a vital and incredibly sensitive potion, not a cup of tea and milk!" his guardian barked.
"Yes, sir," Harry said, trying to regain his focus on the steaming potion. Staring at it was like staring at the sky with his head tilted backwards, where if he didn't look back down every now and again he'd probably fall flat on his bum. He didn't want to make Snape angry and get sent upstairs, because he really was excited to be learning about potion-making. The room itself was fascinating enough; it looked almost exactly like the one in Snow White where the witch had poisoned the apple and transformed herself into a hideous old hag. All it lacked was a human skull with an ebony-winged avian familiar perched atop.
The jars were intriguing simply by virtue of their sheer number, and in the flickering light they shone like a thousand lanterns. But the labels were the best part; Harry, while trying to keep watch over his potion, at the same time strained his eyes to read the elegant script on the front of each jar. Some of the names were indecipherable, at least from where he was standing. Others were confusing, like Gum Arabic and Verbena. Some managed to make him feel rather ill, such as Newt Testicles or Pulverised Bats' Wings. And then there were the jars that caused him to shiver — not unpleasantly, like when he'd used to sneak out to the Dursley kitchen at night for something to munch on and heard the floor creaking upstairs, but more like when the first notes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 began playing, or that look on Aslan's face when he stomped the witch into black smoke. Those jars were marked with names like Mummy Dust, Ashes of Atlantis, and Wolfsbane.
Harry tensed, his concentration broken, as he heard Snape's footsteps behind him. He clenched his teeth in anticipation of another scolding and tried valiantly to keep up the proper stirring pattern, but it was as though his hands were determined to get him in trouble. They kept trying to go in the wrong direction, so Harry had to yank the paddle back the other way several times.
Snape hovered over him for a moment before speaking. "That's enough of that," he said. "Now . . ." Harry stopped stirring and watched as Snape produced one of the glass jars. "This is a special, magical herb called begeta, which acts a bit like yeast. You use it when making potions that are designed to refill or replenish." He opened the jar and held it out to Harry. The begeta smelled horrible, kind of like mildew. "Take a pinch out," Snape instructed, "and sprinkle it in."
Harry reached out eagerly; Snape hadn't let him do anything but stir so far, and that was fun, but now he was going to add something, just like a real wizard! But before Harry's fingers could touch the odd substance, he hesitated. "What's wrong with you now, Potter?" Snape barked at him impatiently.
"How much is a pinch, sir? You said measurements have to be exact."
Harry tried not to look at Snape's face any more often than necessary, so he didn't have to see the expressions of anger and frustration that were frequently displayed there. The consequence of this was that he often didn't know his guardian's mood until he spoke. Such was the case this time, and Harry's neck and shoulders felt slightly less tense when Snape's voice softened. "This isn't an ingredient that needs to be measured exactly. You don't want too much, of course, but unless you literally grab a fistful, that shouldn't be a problem."
Harry tentatively reached back into the jar and pinched a small quantity of the herb, which felt like the little dried buds on the end of baby's breath, between his fingers. He held it over the cauldron, then looked to Snape for confirmation.
Snape nodded. "That's just enough. Go ahead and sprinkle it in, then give the whole mixture a few dozen stirs deosil." And as Harry obeyed, Snape surprised him by saying, "Master brewers develop an eye for quantity, usually over time. You might just have that knack."
Harry felt a surge of pride at his guardian's words, and his face heated up as he stirred the potion slowly for a few moments. "Was my mother good at Potions?" Harry asked before he thought. Snape looked up sharply from the table where he was working, his pestle suspended in midair. Harry, embarrassed, dropped his gaze to his feet, curling his toes up inside his shoes and hoping Snape would just ignore him. Since the moment he had realised that Snape and his mother had known each other, Harry had been aching to ask his guardian all about her. He had no pictures of his parents, nor any of their possessions, and all he knew from Aunt Petunia was that they were freaks who had died in a car crash, as freaks so often did.
Snape looked at Harry for a moment, then resumed his work with the pestle. "Yes, she was very good," he said in a low voice. There was a moment of silence, and then Snape added, "She had good instincts for it. I used to help her, but it wasn't very long before she didn't even need me."
"Then maybe . . . maybe someday, I'll be as good as she was?" Harry asked hopefully.
Snape sighed again and wiped his hands on a rag, then took out his wand and extinguished the fire under the Blood-Replenishing Potion. He ignored Harry's question, perhaps not realising that it was a question. "Fetch that cauldron lid over there so this can simmer," he ordered Harry, who scrambled to obey. The lid was almost as tall as he was when balancing on its edge, and carrying it, Harry felt like a warrior with a huge shield. Snape's house sure had a lot of opportunities for playing pretend. If only Noddy weren't there, he could play all kinds of games while Snape was away.
Snape set the heavy lid on top of the cauldron. "The heat the potion gained from being boiled will be trapped in by the lid, allowing the mixture to finish brewing," he explained to Harry. "That's enough for now. It's time to eat."
"Can I help you some more after tea?" Harry asked hopefully. As damp and scary as this room was, it was also exciting to be down there, pretending to be a powerful sorcerer working his secret magic. And Snape was different in this room. Sure, he got snappish sometimes — a lot, actually — and Harry was always afraid he'd make a huge mistake and earn himself another spanking. Still, it was obvious that Snape loved his potions, and he seemed to really enjoy sharing his vast knowledge of them. Sometimes, when he was explaining to Harry about the effects of heat, or how to hold the stirring paddle so the flat edge caught the current, his tone was almost reverent. There was powerful magic in studying this subject, and Harry couldn't wait until Snape started letting him do more than stir or add a pinch of begeta.
Consequently, his face fell when Snape shook his head. "No, Potter. The headmaster has requested two specific potions, and they require my full and complete attention. I can't be watching you at the same time."
Harry felt a pang of remorse when Snape mentioned the headmaster. He had hoped that he might meet the old man again so he could ask him about his mum and dad. But Dumbledore hadn't come back. It had been over a week since his visit. In that time, Harry had somehow managed to avoid being punished . . . well, there had been one night that Snape sent him to bed early, but as Harry had forgotten to dust the library that day, it didn't seem unreasonable. He didn't mind very much being punished for something he'd actually done, if only due to the fact that it was a new experience, and therefore somewhat interesting.
Besides, Harry really preferred to be alone in his room, if not alone in the library. In fact, the ideal situation was to cart an armload of books upstairs and devour them in relative comfort. He had taken to doing his lessons up there, as well, since Noddy only had Snape's room to tidy up every morning and spent the rest of the day downstairs.
Harry felt very sad as he remembered what Snape had told him during his punishment, that night when he'd visited Harry's old house and spoken with Aunt Marge. Snape had said that Dumbledore agreed with the punishment. The headmaster felt that spanking was appropriate for liars. Obviously, he thought Harry was a liar, and that was what made Harry sad. Now Dumbledore wouldn't want to come back and see him, and he wouldn't get to hear any more about his parents. And when he went to that school in a few years, as Snape said he would . . . well, it couldn't be a good thing to have the headmaster hate you. Not at all.
"Go upstairs and wash up, then change your clothes for tea," Snape told him as they ascended the rickety wooden basement steps to the kitchen. "We will eat in ten minutes."
"Yes, sir," Harry said, sniffing hungrily at the air. He hadn't realised just how hungry he had become while helping Snape downstairs. Despite the hypnotic effect of the potion he'd been stirring, Harry had been so engrossed in their activities that he'd actually forgotten to be hungry. That had never happened before.
Upstairs, Harry took off the battered robe that Snape had given him. It looked as though it had been shrunk to size the way his other clothes had, as the proportions were slightly off. It was also very well worn, which Harry liked, as it meant he didn't have to be hypervigilant about keeping it from getting soiled. He hung the robe in his wardrobe, then took a fresh shirt and trousers from his drawers and laid them on the bed. He would put them on as soon as he'd washed up in the bathroom.
It was a strange feeling, wearing new clothes without rips or tears. Stranger still was that they all fit. From the Dursleys', Snape had brought back a small box of clothing — clothing that he assumed to be Harry's, seeing as how it was found in the bedroom he thought to be Harry's as well. Harry was beyond arguing with Snape. That way lay trouble, every time. The fact that the clothes were too big for him didn't seem to matter; Snape just assumed they had been bought for Harry to 'grow into,' which explained why they all still had their tags attached.
Snape had not appeared to be carrying anything when he stepped out of the fireplace that night, but the next morning, he had surprised Harry by producing a tiny bundle from one of the hidden pockets in his voluminous robes. With a flick of his wand, the parcel had expanded to a good-sized shipping carton. Inside were various new clothes — Dudley's, Harry realised with a sinking heart. They wouldn't fit, and Snape would be angry again.
But that wasn't the case. "Miss Dursley had already disposed of everything in your chest of drawers," Snape drawled, giving Harry a distasteful look as if he'd somehow inconvenienced the man. "But these were piled in the wardrobe, no doubt for you to wear after you ripped your way through the others. I'll shrink them to size, and you'll begin wearing them here right away."
"Yes, sir," Harry whispered.
"Keep these other things around, but only to wear when you're doing something that might damage your good clothes," the man instructed him, shoving the ratty shirts and trousers together in the bottom drawer and slamming it shut. Perhaps he wasn't angry just then, but the noise still made Harry take a step back. The memory of his guardian's rage was still too fresh at that point, and loud noises looked like they were going to be a problem for some time yet.
Tea was delicious, consisting of roast beef, scalloped potatoes, and steamed green beans. Harry enjoyed every bite, and the atmosphere was surprisingly calm. He had found that Snape was easier to be around after he'd been working among his potions. Much more relaxed. Right then, he was reading a letter that Noddy had left propped up against his teacup. It wasn't the first letter that had arrived since Harry had come to live there, and yet he had never once seen a postman. Stranger still was the fact that none of the letters had any envelopes. But with such delicious food before him, Harry hardly cared how the letters came, or even if they came at all.
"Oh, joy cometh in the morning," Snape said suddenly, sounding exasperated. Harry looked up from his roast beef, apprehensive. He tried to think if he'd done anything that could have made Snape angry, but his mind came up blank. Still, he sat rigidly in his seat. Waiting.
Snape was a moment longer in finishing up the letter, but finally he sighed and folded it back into a rectangle. He looked suddenly much older and very tired as he pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed at his forehead. Harry didn't want to ask what the matter was and get snapped at, but he wished Snape would tell him so he wouldn't have to feel so nervous.
"It would appear that we will have a visitor soon," Snape finally announced, sounding less than pleased at the news. "An old . . . er, friend of mine, Lucius Malfoy, has a son your age. He came to stay for a fortnight last summer, and evidently Lucius plans on making it a habit." He looked like he wanted to say more, perhaps something rude about his 'friend,' but instead fell silent as he sipped at his tea meditatively.
"When is he coming?"
"Five days, right after school is dismissed for the holidays," Snape answered, looking irritated. "I, of course, am not entitled to any recovery time."
Harry had questions, of course. Where was this boy going to stay? Would Harry have to give up his room for the stranger?
Then there were questions that Snape could never answer — or, rather, that Harry could never ask. What was the boy like? Was he going to be just another Dudley, gorging himself on sweets and going out of his way to make Harry miserable? Would Noddy treat him with the same disgust and disdain that he'd shown so far to his master's obligatory ward? Snape seemed no more enthusiastic about his new visitor than he was over Harry. And if that were the case . . . could he and this unknown boy possibly become friends, allied as they were against the capricious adult who had been placed in reluctant charge of them?
Harry couldn't voice those concerns, and so he asked the one question he didn't care much about one way or the other. "What is his name?"
Snape gave him a tight smile. "His name is Draco."
To be continued . . .